Sweet Thursday - Setting
Cannery Row in Monterey, California.
After the first major cannery, the Pacific Fish Company, opened on Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, California in 1908, what would come to be called Cannery Row experienced a rapid economic boom as other canneries flocked to the area to take advantage of the demand for canned sardines during WW I. Steinbeck, from nearby Salinas, was intimately familiar with the locale and Monterey would come to serve as the back drop for some of his most loved novels, like Tortilla Flat andCannery Row.
Unfortunately by the end of WW II, over-fishing in Monterey Bay precipitated the collapse of the canning industry, which left Cannery Row destitute and abandoned. Doc returns to an economically devastated and deserted Cannery Row in Sweet Thursday. The narrator comments:
The canneries themselves fought the war by getting the limit taken off fish and catching them all. [. . .] Cannery Row was sad when all the pilchards were caught and canned and eaten. The pearl-gray canneries of corrugated iron were silent and a pacing watchman was their only life. The street that once roared with trucks was quiet and empty (1).
The novel is permeated by loss and change, which is reflected in the changed nature of Cannery Row's environment. The familiar whistles of the canneries beckoning people to work and the smells of the industry are gone from what was once a multi-culturally and economically vibrant area.
Interestingly, Steinbeck himself brought life back to Cannery Row, as fans began to visit the area to see the actual location of the famed canneries, Lee Chong's Grocery and Western Biological Laboratories for themselves. An entire tourism industry in the area has grown from Steinbeck's comedic portrayal of the region. Fans today can still visit Western Biological Laboratories and patronize a marine preserve and aquarium that would undoubtedly surprise and dazzle Mack and friends.